Wednesday brought the revelation that, by request of the FBI, the NSA was monitoring the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. And then yesterday afternoon, it emerged that the same government agencies have gained secret access to the audio and video chats, photographs, emails, and documents of countless numbers of Americans directly from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple, according to documents posted on the websites of both The Guardian and The Washington Post.
National Intelligence James R. Clapper said in a statement: “Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.” An unnamed source from inside the intelligence community told Washington Post reporters, “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.” The Obama Administration has reacted by saying that Prism is legal, highly effective, and aimed at non-U.S. citizens.
Is collection of data on this big a scale a violation of our rights to privacy or a necessary evil that keeps us safe from terrorist attacks? How is this data culled and used? And will this breach of trust between government and average Americans hurt Obama’s second-term agenda?
Robert O’Harrow, Washington Post Investigative Reporter and author of a seminal 2005 book about data profiling and national security titled “No Place to Hide: Behind the Scenes of Our Emerging Surveillance Society”